For the past three seasons, the Rays have trotted out a litany of short-stops, many failing to make any sort of impact that the plate. But with the addition of Yunel Escobar, the nightmare was supposed to be over. "Supposed to be."
Through eleven games, Escobar, while a plus defender, has been surprisingly inadequate at the plate, batting .105 (4/38) with two RBI's and two runs. Of his 34 outs, nearly 1/3 (11) have come via strikeout.
Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, so a 11-game struggle like this isn't the end of the world. But looking at Escobar's advanced metrics definitely creates cause for concern.
Below is Escobar's career hit-chart (per fangraphs.com)
|2007||Braves||2.44||21.1 %||56.0 %||22.9 %|
|2008||Braves||2.35||17.1 %||58.2 %||24.7 %|
|2009||Braves||1.68||19.8 %||50.2 %||30.0 %|
|2010||2 Teams||1.89||18.0 %||53.6 %||28.4 %|
|2011||Blue Jays||2.32||18.2 %||57.2 %||24.7 %|
|2012||Blue Jays||2.25||18.7 %||56.3 %||25.1 %|
|2013||Rays||2.33||9.1 %||63.6 %||27.3 %|
For the most part, the numbers are fairly consistent, with his GB/FB ratio tumbling in 2009-10, and most notably his LD%, this year. Escobar has struggled with line-drives, while his ground-ball rate has spiked, a reason why he's been so ineffective. His GB/FB ratio has been nearly identical to his career numbers, but with such a low LD%, Escobar has struggled to get on-base.
Even though Escobar's patience has rebounded nicely (9.3 % BB rate), he's struck out in more than a quarter of his at-bats (25.6% K rate) and has been the closest thing to an automatic out in the Rays line-up. The walk rate is slightly above his career-rate, but his K% rate is more than double his career rate (11.2%). In straight numbers, Escobar has four walks and 11 strike-outs, compared to only four hits. Anytime you have more strikeouts than hits and walks combined...
Here's the silver lining: Escobar's BABIP is at .148, a number that is sure to improve as he breaks out of his slump; although, with a career BABIP of .305, it's tough to imagine he'll approach that if his ground-ball rate remains above 60% for the season. Even if you factor in positive regression, with a likely increase in LD% and more fly-balls falling for hits, it's currently tough to discern Escobar from the parade of Rays shortstops the past three seasons.
Escobar's career early-season numbers are Jekyll and Hyde-esque. Last season, he hit .208 through his first ten games with 1 home run, 5 RBI's, and 7 runs. He finished the month batting only .216. In 2011, he hit .438 through his first ten games, with 1 home run, 7 RBI's, and 8 runs, before significantly cooling down and ending the month at .281. In 2010, he hit .244 through his first ten games, with 8 RBI's and 7 runs, and finished the month batting .215. In 2009, Esobar hit .308 over his first ten games, with 1 HR, 5 RBI's, and 5 runs. He ended the month at .274.
While his struggles to start the season have never been this bad, it has been magnified because of how he's struggled, particularly with runners on base. This season, he has already left 24 men on-base, worst on a team that has had trouble scoring runs all season. His April 6th effort against the Indians was particularly rough, as he lined into a bases-loaded, inning-ending double-play and had an inning-ending strike-out in back-to-back at-bats.
Escobar is a streaky hitter, and unfortunately for Rays fans, he's on a cold streak right now. The line-drive rate is concerning, as it's a sign that he's simply not getting good contact. The high K% rate will improve, as he has always been a plus-contact hitter, failing to punch out more than 70 times in any season. The BB% rate, which took a major dip last year, has returned to his pre-2012 form which is a plus, as it shows his patience has returned. Escobar can rebound from this mess.
Remember, even if Escobar matches last season's disappointing numbers of (.253/9 HR's/51 RBI's/58 R/5 SB), it'd still be an offensive upgrade over the combo of Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson, and Sean Rodriguez.